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Gargiulo, G.J. (1999). Two Responses to Meissner vs. Postmodernism. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(2):631-633.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(2):631-633

Two Responses to Meissner vs. Postmodernism

Gerald J. Gargiulo

February 1, 1999. While I am appreciative that William Meissner found much that he was in sympathy with in his review of Soul on the Couch (JAPA 46/4), his criticism that most of the articles were postmodern in thought, relational, or exclusively self psychological, and that basic analytic concepts were simply abandoned, was more than puzzling.

In an attempt to see areas of unity between spirituality, both Eastern and Western, and psychoanalytic thought, many of the contributors presented a broader understanding of traditional analytic concepts. Intrinsic to giving broader meaning to a concept, of course, is the recognition that human language is ultimately metaphorical. This is, obviously, no denial of objective reality, but simply the recognition that it is interpretable. Human ingenuity finds new aspects of the world through new interpretations. Freud's genius was in taking everyday slips of the tongue and/or everyday dreams and interpreting a meaning hidden beneath the obvious. In his various models of the mind, from the topographical to the structural, was Freud himself not struggling to find models for the complexity of the self and of self-understanding?

In view of this, it is puzzling that Meissner warns the reader against what he characterizes as the text's polemical promotion of postmodern thought and subjectivist relativism. These terms are introduced as if some betrayal of psychoanalysis were afoot. As one of the book's editors, I am not aware of having pursued any overwhelmingly self psychological or postmodern agenda, notwithstanding the fact that the book is listed in the relational series of The Analytic Press.

What Meissner objects to is the attempt to reformulate an understanding of such terms as the unconscious, mind, and the “I.” Both Greifinger and I speak of the self or the “I” as illusory—that is, it is not a reality that can be thought of in terms of substance. It is, rather, a term that must be understood in the total cultural/psychological/historical context of being human. The same can be said of the concept of mind that I presented, following the thought of D. W. Winnicott (1949) and Marcia Cavell (1988), as possibly having more applicability to human cultural and linguistic achievements than to the personal singularity of individuals.

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